Herbicides: A Solution to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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utility lines over a lake

A new carbon emissions study associated with the State Game Lands 33 Research Project sheds light on the environmental impact of numerous methods commonly used by vegetation managers to control incompatible plant species throughout various application sites. The results of this study provide ample insights for organizations working to increase productivity and reduce their carbon footprint.

By now, most organizations are familiar with the concept of a carbon footprint. Defined by the amount of carbon emitted by an organization and its activities, carbon footprints are an effective way to measure the environmental impact of various businesses around the globe.

Why is this analysis important? Simply put, when carbon is emitted into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, and there is not enough biocapacity dedicated to the absorption of these emissions, several ecological threats emerge as a result, including:

  • Deforestation
  • Species extinction
  • Climate change
  • Food crop shortages

Considering these adverse effects, many organizations are working to identify ways to minimize their carbon footprint. For utility and energy companies, departments of transportation and other entities that leverage vegetation management programs to safeguard infrastructure from incompatible plant species, one solution stands above the rest: selective herbicide applications.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, burning a single gallon of gas produces 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) and burning a gallon of diesel fuel produces 22.38 pounds of CO2. This is alarming for vegetation managers, many of whom have relied on fuel-demanding mechanical equipment for years to support control methods used to manage problematic vegetation on and around various use sites, including forestry settings, railroads and pipelines as well as utility and roadside rights-of-way.

As these areas cover millions of acres throughout the United States, Asplundh Tree Expert set out to support long-standing State Game Lands 33 research by assessing the carbon footprint of applications commonly used by vegetation managers. Asplundh used 15 different field plots to assess the amount of carbon emissions produced by application methods commonly used to achieve vegetation control:

  • Low-volume basal (herbicide treatment)
  • Low-volume foliar (herbicide treatment)
  • High-volume foliar (herbicide treatment)
  • Hand-cutting (hand-held chainsaw)
  • Mechanized mowing

In addition to tracking the amount of fuel and herbicide used for each field plot, Asplundh tracked total man-hours, acres treated and pounds of CO2 emitted per acre. The intention was to identify which application method(s) improves productivity and offers the lowest carbon emissions. These plots revealed two noteworthy insights:

1. Mowing produced the most carbon emissions – by far.

Mechanical mowing required significantly more fuel than all other control methods tested in the Asplundh field plots, all of which measured approximately 2 to 3 acres in size. The 24 gallons of fuel required for mowing just 3.04 acres equated to carbon emissions of 176.68 lbs./acre. This average was approximately 8 times higher than hand-cutting and high-volume foliar herbicide applications; low-volume basal and foliar applications represented two methods that required no fuel whatsoever.

2. Herbicide applications required significantly less time to complete

Low-volume basal, low-volume foliar and high-volume foliar herbicide applications significantly outperformed their field plot counterparts in terms of time efficiency. Low-volume basal applications showed an average range of 0.62 acre treated per hour (ac/h) and 0.9 ac/h, while the two plots featuring high-volume foliar applications covered 0.7 ac/h and 3.06 ac/h, respectively. In comparison, mechanical mowing covered just 0.51 ac/h while hand-cutting practices yielded a slow-moving range of 0.04 ac/h to 0.09 ac/h.


Taking these results into account, vegetation managers are forced to consider the impact mechanical control methods can have on the environment as well as their pocketbook. More time requires more manpower and budget resources. Moreover, the increasing fuel requirements of outdated control methods only expand the carbon footprint of companies using them in the field, resulting in an ethical nightmare.

For every million acres treated with mowing applications, today’s practitioners can expect to release more than 175 million pounds of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Now, imagine having the option to use control methods that not only produce a fraction of those emissions but also provide significant cost savings. Whereas mechanical mowing practices stimulate regrowth, using selective herbicide applications as part of an Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) strategy allows vegetation managers to selectively control problematic vegetation without causing harm to desirable plant species. This allows native plant communities to develop in place of targeted vegetation, resulting in lower incompatible stem densities and reduced maintenance requirements over time.

Herbicide applications present a significant opportunity for vegetation managers and their contract partners to reduce their carbon footprint without having to sacrifice results or resources. In fact, environmental research studies have shown that using selective herbicides as part of an IVM strategy provides the most impactful support to the development of biodiverse habitat for various wildlife species. To learn more about these research findings, as well as the economic and environmental benefits of IVM programs featuring selective herbicide applications, visit HabitatWithHerbicides.com


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